Günter Schabowski (born January 4, 1929 in Anklam ; † November 1, 2015 in Berlin ) was a German journalist and politician . In the German Democratic Republic, he was editor-in-chief of the SED - Central Organ New Germany from 1978 to 1985 and then until 1989 first secretary of the SED district leadership of East Berlin . Schabowski was a member of the SED Central Committee and the SED Politburo from 1981 until its dissolution in 1989. He was secretary for information from November 6, 1989.
In this function, he gave a press conference on the evening of November 9, 1989 in the building at Mohrenstrasse 36-37. There he read from a slip of paper a new regulation for travel to western countries for GDR citizens. In response to a reporter's question, he replied that this regulation came into force "immediately, immediately" to the best of his knowledge. This statement triggered a mass rush of GDR citizens on the border with West Berlin on the same evening , so that the overburdened GDR border guards opened the wall after a few hours .
In August 1997, Schabowski was sentenced to three years imprisonment with two co-defendants by the Berlin district court for multiple manslaughter . He was one of the few former SED politicians who publicly acknowledged their shared responsibility for the dictatorial aspects of the GDR.
Schabowski grew up as the son of a plumber in what was then the Prussian province of Pomerania . He was a member of the Hitler Youth , ending up as a squad leader . He attended the Andreas-Gymnasium in Berlin-Friedrichshain and graduated from high school there in 1946 . In the same year he joined the FDGB and worked in 1946/47 as a volunteer for its daily newspaper Die Freie Handelschaft . Since 1947 he was the editor of the union newspaper Tribüne .
In 1950 Schabowski joined the FDJ and became a candidate for the SED, and in 1952 a member of the SED. In 1953 he was promoted to deputy editor-in-chief of the tribune and in 1962 completed a correspondence course at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig as a qualified journalist . As a sign of his political ascent, he studied at the party college of the CPSU in Moscow from 1967 to 1968 . Schabowski then worked at the SED central organ Neues Deutschland , initially as deputy editor-in-chief, from 1978 to 1985 as editor-in-chief and at the same time member of the central board of the Association of Journalists of the GDR (VDJ). With this position, which is important for party propaganda , a further political rise was connected. In 1981 he became a member of the Central Committee (ZK) of the SED and in 1984 a member of the agitation committee at the Politburo of the Central Committee of the SED . In 1985, after the overthrow of Konrad Naumann, he became the first secretary of the district leadership of the SED in East Berlin and thus also chairman of the district operations leadership in Berlin. Since 1985 he was a member of the Politburo. Since 1986 Secretary of the Central Committee, he reports directly to the Secretary General . Because of this position, he was temporarily under discussion as Erich Honecker's successor for the position of Chairman of the State Council and Secretary General of the SED. From 1981 to 1990 Schabowski was also a member of the People's Chamber of the GDR.
There are no known examples of how Schabowski expressed reservations about the legitimacy and absolute claim to power of the SED regime in the period up to autumn 1989 . Rather, he complained in a letter to Erich Honecker that more and more citizens wanted to receive the West German "dirty station Sat 1 " and therefore wanted larger TV antennas. The general director of the rail vehicle construction combine, who criticized Schabowski for a nonsensical party decision, was transferred shortly afterwards.
Schabowski was also one of those who spoke of repression in the Ossietzky affair in 1988: On September 11, 1988, "Carl von Ossietzky" had a few students at the Extended High School (EOS) in Berlin-Pankow , including Philipp Lengsfeld , son of Expatriated Vera Wollenberger , at the usual annual rally for the victims of fascism with her own banners against neo-Nazis in the GDR caused offense to the authorities. This was followed by notices in favor of Solidarność , against the traditional military parades of the National People's Army on the anniversary of the GDR and an ironic commentary on a soldier's poem about his weapon. There were lively political discussions at school and a list of signatures was drawn up. This list at the latest prompted the headmaster to report the events to political bodies outside the school. Finally, Margot Honecker intervened as the responsible minister and demanded severe sanctions. Schabowski had been asked to mediate by the parents of one of the students. But finally he instructed:
"A clear atmosphere in the entire FDJ collective must be developed to reject the behavior of the provocative students, which should be led to the point that the FDJ students are of the opinion that the students in question do not belong to an EOS."
Despite clear criticism from members of the GDR opposition such as Stephan Hermlin , Christoph Hein and Marianne Birthler and the International League for Human Rights, and despite the advocacy of representatives of the Evangelical Church such as Bishop Gottfried Forck , the proceedings ended with some pupils being expelled from school and the withdrawal of those previously granted academic freedoms.
On November 8, 1989, in a speech in the Central Committee, Schabowski pleaded for the press to be steered in the interests of the SED, stating:
“A flawless reporting of any occurrence by members of the leadership, that is, members of the Central Committee as well as members of the Politburo ... Those are the most important things. The methods for this can only again be methods of administration and nibbling, if you want to say that in quotation marks, otherwise it is not possible. "
The reporting was recent
"Basically nothing more [...] than the worst methods, that is, the sediment, the Western press [...] we don't have to go along with the crap. And when you talk to them like that, they quickly understood that this is a scam that you cannot accept and that does not agree with the course of renewal. "
Apparently for reasons of tactical power, he and Siegfried Lorenz demanded that the party must be faster than the media and the public prosecutor's office in investigating abuse of office and corruption.
Schabowski was the only member of the Politburo who spoke publicly at the closing rally of the Alexanderplatz demonstration . He and Markus Wolf , who was head of the HVA for many years , gained negative notoriety when their words were lost in the whistles of the crowd. Schabowski, as the deputy of the state authority, described this whistle concert as a “swan song for the SED”.
Contribution to the fall of the wall
On November 6, 1989, the position of Secretary of the Central Committee of the SED for Information Systems was created (roughly comparable to a government spokesman ) and filled with Schabowski.
He got his place in history with his second public appearance on November 9, 1989 in this function: Gerhard Lauter , head of passport and registration in the GDR Interior Ministry, had received the assignment from the Politburo to work with senior officers from the Interior Ministry and the Ministry to formulate a draft of the Council of Ministers for state security for a temporary transitional arrangement for permanent departure from the GDR, i.e. with loss of citizenship. Contrary to the specifications, the working group did not limit the draft to permanent departure, but expanded it to include trips or private trips abroad , i.e. with a return to the GDR - according to Lauter without consulting the client.
This draft was sent to the Chairman of the State Council and Secretary General Egon Krenz at noon , the Politburo did not object to the mandate despite the significant change, and then at around 4 p.m. Krenz presented it to the Central Committee (ZK) with an amendment to the agenda: “The Chairman of the Council of Ministers has a regulation suggested, which I would like to read out because it has such an effect that I do not want to leave the Central Committee without consultation: The following temporary transitional regulations for travelers and permanent departures from the GDR to foreign countries come into force with immediate effect: a) Private trips abroad ... ". The fact that Krenz recognized the explosiveness of this passage, but did not consider further travel restrictions to be tenable, also results from his remark: "Uh ... the way we do it, we do it the wrong way, but that is the only solution that saves us the problems, all via third countries to do what is not conducive to the international reputation of the GDR . ”In conclusion, Krenz read out that the regulation was only to be “ published on November 10th ” .
As in the Politburo, there was no opposition to the text in the Central Committee. At the initiative of the Minister of Culture Hans-Joachim Hoffmann, it was even sharpened there by changing the passage from “temporary transitional regulations” to “regulations”. Schabowski, however, did not come to the Central Committee meeting until around 5:30 p.m., so he missed the discussion of the draft approved by the Central Committee. Krenz handed him the text for the press conference scheduled from 6 to 7 p.m. with the comment: “You must definitely inform about the travel deadline. This is the world news ”- but without mentioning the blocking period and at least orally without mentioning this period. In addition, Krenz pre-empted the approval of the draft, which should not be in circulation by the Council of Ministers until 6 p.m. The press conference was broadcast live on GDR television and radio. Only shortly before 7 p.m. asked the Italian journalist and ANSA correspondent Riccardo Ehrman , possibly on the basis of a tip from Günter Pötschke , then head of the ADN and member of the Central Committee of the SED, in somewhat broken German: “Mr. Schabowski, you have spoken about mistakes . Don't you think it was a big mistake to introduce this draft travel law that you presented a few days ago? ”Schabowski initially expressed his astonishment that as far as he knew the new regulation had already been published - which was not true. Then he looked for the text of the draft regulation from the documents he had brought with him and read from it:
“Private trips abroad can be applied for without the existence of any prerequisites (reasons for travel and family relationships). The permits are granted at short notice. The responsible passport and registration departments of the People's Police District Offices in the GDR are instructed to issue visas for permanent departure without delay, without the requirements for permanent departure having to be met. [...] Permanent exits can take place via all border crossing points from the GDR to the FRG or to West Berlin. "
When asked by the journalist Ralph T. Niemeyer “When will this take effect?” Schabowski replied:
"To the best of my knowledge ... it occurs immediately, immediately."
( Transcript )
Reuters was the first news agency to disseminate the departure regulations. ADN distributed the complete and prepared report at 19:04 at the same time as the dpa . At 7:05 p.m., the Associated Press was already talking about the “opening of the border” and at 7:17 p.m. the ZDF news program Today broadcast excerpts from Schabowski's press conference, ANSA reported the fall of the Berlin Wall at 7:31 p.m.
Schabowski responded to later criticism of his SED comrades: "If a system breaks because people can move freely, it deserves nothing better." At the press conference, three other members of the Central Committee sat next to Schabowski who gave his remarks Corrected or commented on other details, but not with regard to the validity of the travel regulations. Even Krenz declared in 1999: “I do not accuse him of making a mistake. Nobody can say how the population would have behaved if the border had opened as planned on the morning of November 10th. However, and this is essential, the prepared orders would have been in place on the morning of November 10th. The protection and security organs would have known what to do . ”Schabowski also stated in 2004 that he had assumed that the GDR authorities would have been able to control the now possible“ short-term ”and“ without the existence of preconditions ”:
“After the press conference I went back to the Central Committee, took my bag and drove home to Wandlitz. I never doubted for a moment that everything would go as decided, that the bureaucracy works, the border opening will take effect from November 10th. It never occurred to me that this bureaucracy couldn't work. "
However, if one takes into account the political changes of the Soviet Union , the guaranteeing power , the revocation of the shooting orders in the GDR since April 1989 , the beginning of the self-dissolution of the SED's power structures and the increasingly open western borders of the other states of the former Eastern Bloc , the GDR regime would probably be one Channeling the exit from the GDR through formal requirements was only possible for a limited period if the transitional regulation had not been published until four o'clock in the morning as planned. Schabowski's false statement about the immediate effectiveness of the regulation has accelerated the opening of the border dramatically: Announced almost live to the media around the world, it led to the opening of the Wall on the same evening because it caused thousands of Berliners to come to the border crossing points and with reference to Schabowski's statements to demand massive opening. At the East Berlin border crossing on Bornholmer Strasse , the officers of the passport control unit (PKE, State Security, Main Department VI) and the border troops of the GDR who were performing their duties there were the first to comply with this request , thus triggering a chain reaction at all border crossings in and around Berlin. Shortly after midnight, there were also further openings on the inner-German border with the Federal Republic. Schabowski therefore spoke of the “ coffin nail ” of socialism in connection with the impact of this press conference . But historically more significant than this process, which is often described in the media as “Schabowski's mistake” with “Schabowski's note”, appears that both the Politburo and the Central Committee had previously allowed the draft travel regulation not to endeavor to finally leave the country, contrary to the original mandate The GDR limited, but also made repeated trips to (western) foreign countries with return to the GDR significantly easier.
In 2015, the Bonn House of History acquired Schabowski's original note from the 1989 press conference for € 25,000 from Schabowski's friends. According to Irina Schabowski, this is "... the cold-blooded sale of a stolen thing". At the insistence of the family, at the beginning of the 1990s, they gave a few documents, including the note, to acquaintances who wanted to take a closer look. Despite repeated requests, she got nothing back.
Loss of power
Since mid-1989, some representatives of the SED regime increasingly came to believe that the system could only survive if the growing opposition was at least formally accommodated. To this end, the SED's “readiness for dialogue” was emphasized. Schabowski was one of those who was particularly committed to this. Above all, however, the SED aroused skepticism, and it was not uncommon for it to be scorned and ridiculed when it asked citizens to have a trusting conversation.
Schabowski's Sunday conversation in Berlin on October 29, 1989, to which 20,000 people had come, also belonged in this context. But even here he did not succeed in winning the approval of the crowd.
As the only high SED functionary, Schabowski appeared on November 4, 1989 at the largest protest demonstration in the history of the GDR on Berlin's Alexanderplatz . Like Markus Wolf, he was booed there as a representative of the “old forces”.
On November 8, 1989, the SED Central Committee accepted the political resignation of the Politburo. Schabowski, however, was immediately re-elected as a member of the Central Committee without a dissenting vote and into the secretariat of the new Politburo.
On November 9, 1989, he missed the discussion of the draft travel regulations in the Central Committee because he was in front of the building with journalists (his presentation) and construction workers (presentation by Krenz).
On November 18, 1989, the People's Chamber of the GDR set up a committee to investigate abuse of office, corruption and personal gain. To this end, the committee applied for an arrest warrant to the GDR public prosecutor's office. Schabowski testified there on January 18, 1990 about the brutal behavior of the security forces during the demonstrations on January 6/7. October 1989 in Berlin had happened on instructions from Erich Honecker, he himself had only found out about the arrests and mistreatment from newspapers. Klaus-Dieter Baumgarten, on the other hand, former commander of the border troops, replied in New Germany that Schabowski was the first secretary of the SED district leadership in Berlin to be informed about all "incidents on the border with West Berlin in a timely, factual and precise manner". Like other former residents of the Waldsiedlung Wandlitz , which was reserved for the officials , Schabowski was also accused of having only “little by little” admitted the privileges obtained from it. He was also accused of abusing government aircraft for private trips abroad. He then admitted to having "lived parasitically".
On December 1, 1989, the People's Chamber deleted the SED's claim to leadership from the constitution of the GDR, and on December 3, 1989, the Central Committee and the SED's Politburo resigned as one. At the Extraordinary Party Congress of the SED from 8./9. and 16./17. December 1989 it was renamed the Socialist Unity Party of Germany - Party of Democratic Socialism (SED-PDS) and the "irrevocable break with Stalinism as a system" was decided. But that too did not prove sufficient to restore acceptance of the party and its representatives in the population of the GDR.
On January 20, 1990, Schabowski, like most of the other former members of the Politburo, was summoned to appear before the Central Arbitration Commission of the SED-PDS. One by one they were called into the hall and asked about the privileged life in Wandlitz, the falsification of the last elections and the order to shoot in Leipzig. It was Schabowski's turn after eight hours in the early morning hours of January 21, 1990. Like almost everyone else, he was subsequently expelled from the SED-PDS. The reasoning stated that the people concerned had belonged to the former Politburo for decades and that they were "entirely responsible for the existence-threatening crisis in the party and in the country". They had contributed significantly to the fact that the party leadership at that time "distanced itself more and more from the people and the party base and that its activities - in clear contrast to the statute - were characterized by subjectivism, egoism, adulation, whitewash and the constant violation of the principle of collectivity" . They were also responsible for “the fact that the members of the party were politically incapacitated and totally excluded from the internal party decision-making processes, so that the entire SED of that time was subject to ever increasing bureaucratic centralization and regulation”. In the same way they had a decisive influence on political life in the GDR. Furthermore, the former party leadership had verbally declared its unbreakable friendship with the USSR and CPSU, but in fact gave up this policy, which was expressed not least in the ban on Soviet newspapers, magazines and works of art. Furthermore, several members of the former Politburo had taken advantage of unjustified privileges. The Arbitration Commission noted that Schabowski had tried several times to “bring about a change in the Politburo”. But they had failed because of “their inconsistency in seeking an open discussion with Honecker, Günter Mittag and others” and mobilizing the party base for a fundamental change in party politics before the 9th Central Committee meeting: “This hesitation and hesitation was part of it led to the crisis that forced our people to push through the turnaround on the street. ”Later Schabowski stated that he initially felt these accusations and the exclusion with disappointment and anger over the hypocrisy, but later as the beginning of his intellectual freedom.
In one of the most extensive series of trials in post-war history, the so-called Politburo Trials , which opened in 1992 , Schabowski and others were charged with multiple manslaughter on the basis of the deaths of GDR refugees . Only on November 13, 1995 did the trial begin before the 27th Large Criminal Chamber of the Berlin Regional Court . But already after four days the presiding judge Hansgeorg Bräutigam had to resign due to bias and on November 30th 1995 the process broke because the co-defendant Günther Kleiber resigned due to illness. On January 15, 1996, the trial began in the second attempt, now with precautionary appointed substitute lay judges and separate proceedings. After a long trial, the Berlin district court made Schabowski, together with Egon Krenz and Günther Kleiber, jointly responsible for the order to shoot the wall and sentenced Schabowski to three years imprisonment for manslaughter on August 25, 1997. Although he went against the legal assessment of the judgment in the Federal Court in revision , but he recognized his moral blame for the death of shots:
“As a former supporter and protagonist of this worldview, I feel guilty and shameful at the thought of those killed at the wall. I ask forgiveness from the relatives of the victims. "
The revision was unsuccessful. In contrast to Egon Krenz, who appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in vain, Schabowski waived this appeal. On November 8, 1999, the judgment against Schabowski therefore became final. In December 1999, he began his sentence in the Hakenfelde prison , but was released on December 2, 2000 after almost a year in open prison, after he was pardoned in September 2000 by the then governing mayor of Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen .
In 1993 proceedings began against him for falsifying the results of the GDR local elections in May 1989, which were discontinued in 1997.
Schabowski was one of the few former SED leaders who publicly and in the Politburo process acknowledged their shared responsibility for the negative aspects of the GDR and participated in their processing. Because of this, and because of his fundamental criticism of socialism as a model of society after 1989, he was and is accused of being a "traitor" by former comrades-in-arms. After 1989, however, Schabowski did not limit himself to speeches. In 2001, together with the GDR civil rights activists Bärbel Bohley and Wolfgang Templin, he was a member of the “Inner Unity Discussion Group” of Frank Steffel , who was then CDU candidate for the office of mayor of Berlin . He advised Governing Mayor Klaus Wowereit ( SPD ) against an alliance with the PDS . He has no confidence that there will be a real departure from the dogmas of the past in the PDS. One should not be fooled by Gregor Gysi's eloquence . In contrast, Berlin's PDS leader Petra Pau Schabowski reproached for having mutated from a 150 percent communist to a 150 percent anti-communist. Gysi criticized that Schabowski embodied a very narrow spectrum and could therefore not advise a people's party. Berlin's SPD leader Peter Strieder complained that the GDR's chief propagandist, of all people, was being consulted on the subject of internal unity. After the election there was a government coalition of the SPD and PDS.
Professionally, Schabowski had to start again after the collapse of the GDR. From 1992 to 1999 he worked as a senior editor at Heimat-Nachrichten in Rotenburg an der Fulda ( Hessen ), a local weekly newspaper that he founded together with the West German journalist and publisher Gerald H. Wenk. He was also deputy editor-in-chief for the journal Diabetes Today , which was published by the diabetologist Elke Austenat , who was arrested by the Stasi for attempting to flee the republic and subsequently sentenced to three years in prison.
Schabowski was married and had two sons with his wife Irina, who was of Russian descent and a former TV journalist. Schabowski was a diabetic . After several heart attacks and strokes, he lived in a Berlin nursing home, where he died on November 1, 2015 after a long illness at the age of 86.
- 1969: Patriotic Order of Merit in bronze
- 1974: Labor banner
- 1977: Patriotic Order of Merit in Gold
- 1989: Order of Friendship of Peoples (USSR)
- 1989: Karl Marx Order
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|BRIEF DESCRIPTION||German politician (SED), MdV|
|DATE OF BIRTH||January 4, 1929|
|PLACE OF BIRTH||Anklam|
|DATE OF DEATH||November 1, 2015|
|Place of death||Berlin|